This month–November, we celebrate November Project’s 8th birthday. More recently a slew of us gathered in Vegas for the 7th annual Summit. These occasions incite curiosity about this movement’s genesis. How it started. The roots. The very, very beginning.
It started with two guys making a pact to work out together at 6:30AM on November 1, 2011. Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham lived in Boston then. It was the time of year when mornings were shrouded in darkness, and winter was already unfurling its lash. How often have we ourselves skipped those kinds of mornings? Hitting the alarm with a heavy hand rather than summoning our feet to hit the floor? But if you knew that someone was waiting for you, out there in the whatever (cold, dark, humid, foggy), wouldn’t you get your ass up? Wouldn’t you show up to meet that one friend?
That is November Project, at its core, stripped down and naked. It is accountability. It is the idea that it matters when you show up. Having rowed together in college, Brogan & Bojan had accountability etched in their beings. At crew practice, one person not being there meant the entire team couldn’t go out to row. So the two of them knew to show up at 6:30AM on November 1, 2011. And the next morning, the morning after that, and so on. They kept showing up for each other. At its core, stripped down and naked, their presence was louder than the howling winter wind, heavier than the hand hitting the alarm. Showing up meant, “I am here for you.”
Today it’s not just Bojan & Brogan that wake up the sun. And neither is it just Boston. It’s also happening in Novi Sad, in Hong Kong, in Minneapolis. November Project is 52 cities and counting. These two people plus thousands more are still showing up in the morning.
I know what you may be thinking. That as November Project’s joke of world takeover burgeons into truth, that the weight of the individual will lose a bit of color. That you become another face in the group photo, another name that is not remembered, a presence that is hardly noticed. I sure as hell wondered that when I started going to workouts, even wondering it recently at a huge event like Summit. But there are so many instances still that leave you knowing that it matters that you (yes individual you) show up.
Our grassroots gear is a prime example. Spray paint is cast on shirts, high and tight. When you see grassroots gear you are looking up, up at someone else. It facilitates an in-person connection, be it a high-five or nod. At the very least, there is eye contact, a twinkle of recognition that reads, “I am here for you.”
If you’re up for a hug at November Project, you’ve felt it. If you’ve gotten a hug from Chris Clark or Andy Watt or Dani Kruger or Sierra Asplundh, then you’ve really felt it. It’s not a loose clutch with a short clap on the back. They’re not already glancing at the next person to hug, as if it’s an assembly line. What’s remarkable is these people did this even while they were co-leading, when their attention was pulled in various directions. Still, when any one of these people give you a hug, you are the only person that exists in their world. They are here for you. Not you the general population, but you the very individual that is being embraced. They are here for you.
Ironically enough, even at Summit, there were moments. Summit is mind-blowing. People from all corners of the globe flock together for a weekend. Summit in Vegas last weekend was a ton of energy and people and free pink socks from Brooks. Amidst the largest November Project gathering, there still are electrifying moments that happen between not 23957 people but 2. Moments that instill that you (yes you) matter for showing up.
Cheer squad is a place that illustrates this to the max. Have you watched this video by Brooks? “I’ll be there for every race,” Tek says. Sure, it’s a video. But in real life, he was. A cheer squad was there for every race. We stationed ourselves at a quieter part of the race course, away from the glitz & glam of the Vegas strip. And we cheered. We jolted pom-poms and cowbells. We got hyped for our people. We chased after them with water guns and pride. We reached our hands out, not knowing if or when runners would want a high-five. It just felt like the right thing to do, to be there. Those that finished their own race, like my coleader Jessica, came back to cheer for others. Susan Howell from NP Boston would jog with someone for a small stretch and tell them how phenomenal they were doing. She went back and forth, with a fellow NPer, a friend, a complete stranger, many a stranger actually. Later on, we amassed a long, windy cheer tunnel. No matter how adjective you were running, we were there for you, yes you.
One of my favorite moments from Summit came at the after-party. Again, the atmosphere involved a ton of energy and people, and also two spotted llamas. Before heading out, I wedged my way into a conversation between Matt Swiontek and Brian Fisher. Next month, Matt steps down from leading Grand Rapids, so I wanted to say goodbye. He looked me straight in the eyes, and without wavering that contact, he told me why it mattered that I was there. It took a few seconds to realize that this wasn’t a generic message he was saying to anyone. He was speaking to me specifically–me, Maggie Huang. I started tearing up. And then right after was a goodbye with Brian Fisher, the coleader of Seattle and the glue in the Brooks partnership. With both his hands placed on my shoulders, he directed his whole attention to me. The way he talked to me is similar to how I described those hugs earlier. His words were crafted around who I am, what value I bring to November Project. And damn, it left me crying. By then, I didn’t try stifling the tears. As a quieter coleader, these two interactions blew me away. I left, my soul stirred. Knowing that it matters that I show up, and that those two individuals are here for me.
Summit was incredible. What November Project has blossomed into is remarkable. But what I hang onto tightly are the more intimate moments, involving me and you. So even though it’s not just one person waiting for you at 6:30AM, as it was on November 1, 2011. Even though mornings can be rough, windy, gross. Know that it matters when you show up. You are not just another face in the group photo, not just a name that is forgotten, a presence that is hardly noticed. At our core, it matters when you, yes you, show up.
I am here for you. Jessica is here for you.
Let me get a fuck yeah if you’re here too.
*all images by Jody Bailey (@run.photography)